Belief in a religion vs. a personal search · Journey to WHoleness · Point of View - so many of them! Of course! · Various Belief Systems - Dialogues

Universalism – Helen Paulin

Facebook post by Wesley Knapp –


Helen Paulin [An early Namgyal Rinpoche student]

There has been a Universalist movement in North America since before the American Revolution, the first formal organization beginning in 1970. Its basis was the belief in a loving God and the rejection of the then current orthodoxy among Christians that hell and eternal damnation awaited sinners. The Universalists believed that all men and women were brothers and sisters, children of a loving God.

During the same period, in 1785, parts of the Congregational Church in New England broke away to form separate groups which united in 1825 to become the Unitarian Church. The Unitarians rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, believing in one God. They have never enunciated a doctrine or creed. Over the years, the main tenet has been increasingly a respect for the individual’s search for truth. Today the church membership includes theists, atheists and humanists. Some congregations tend to attract members from one or other of these groups, others tolerate a happy mix.

So you can see that we are not the first Universalists in Canada. The 1851 census listed almost 7,000 Universalists. At that time, there were about 1,200 Unitarians. When these two denominations merged in 1961, the Unitarians outnumbered the Universalists in Canada 100 to 1. In the United States, the proportion of Universalists was greater, so there the merged group is known as the Unitarian Universalists. In Canada the central body took the name Canadian Unitarian Council.

Both groups had roots stemming back through the early Protestant revolts against the Church of Rome’s assumption of authority, to the early Christian communities of the first five centuries A.D. After becoming established in North America between 1785 1790, they held in common a congregational form of church government as opposed to submitting to the authority of synods or presbyteries.

They differed somewhat in social and economic backgrounds: the majority of Unitarian members tended to be more comfortably off and to be led by Harvard trained ministers. The Universalists tended to be simpler folk, many in agricultural areas, most often led by preachers who were self taught and who were more interested in the ‘light within’ than in theological argument. Both groups were alive to social concerns, and individual members were active in movements for the abolition of slavery, votes for women and world peace. On the whole, Unitarians have evidenced more success in maintaining financial support for their cause.

Although I have been a member of a Unitarian congregation since 1958, it is only recently that I have known anything about the Universalists. An interesting aspect of their history is that they were pioneers in having women in the ministry, and that husband and wife teams were often called as ministers to a congregation. In 1942, the charter of the Universalist Church was changed to include the purpose of ‘promoting harmony among adherents of all religious faiths, whether Christian or otherwise’. The following year, in an address to the General Assembly, the General Superintendent said:

“Universalism cannot be limited either to Protestantism or to Christianity, not without denying its very name. Ours is a world fellowship, not just a Christian sect. For so long as Universalism and not partialism, the fellowship bearing its name must succeed in making it unmistakably clear that all are welcome; theist, and humanist, unitarian and trinitarian, coloured and colourless. A circumscribed Universalism is unthinkable.”

As students of Namgyal Rinpoche, we too must be sure that everyone is welcome to any of our groups. We must have respect for all who are seeking and who are on the path of clearing the being to allow for wholeness, whatever label they presently espouse. We must look for that which unites rather than that which divides…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s